Annie Johnny and Satyabrata Rai have been married for five years now. The couple first met on Facebook, in 2009. After dating for a couple of years, when they announced the relationship to their respective families, they were unhappy initially. “Not only because of religious differences but also regional — I am Christian from Kerala, brought up in Delhi, and my husband belongs to a Nepali tribe, and is from Darjeeling. Of course, the major problem both the families had was ‘What will people say?’,” Annie, 34, tells indianexpress.com.
There were fights and arguments, but the couple did everything they could to convince their parents. The families finally met each other. “They could see that the relationship was good; the respective families liked each other and so, thankfully, for us, it did not lead to much of a problem.”
In 2015, Annie and Satyabrata tied the knot in a Christian as well as a Hindu wedding ceremony without converting to either religion. While religion has “not been a big thing” for the two, the years of togetherness have made the couple more accepting of each other. “If one is getting into an interfaith relationship, there needs to be a lot of respect for each other. More than religion, it is about a sense of familiarity you feel with the culture you grow up in. And then you may not be able to see the negative or positive aspects of it in totality, and when your partner is able to highlight those, it actually helps in a better understanding,” says Annie.
The couple does enjoy adopting new things from each other’s culture — from traditional food to textiles — something that has helped them broaden their outlook, believes Annie. “As far as rituals are concerned, it may be big for a lot of people but for us it doesn’t matter; we just do it to please people in our families.”
“Living distant from each other’s family also helps in some ways — it helps you bond and build your own comfortable environment,” she adds.
‘My parents threatened to cut all ties but I had made up my mind’
When Amitabh (name changed) told his parents that he was dating a non-Hindu woman, they did not take him seriously at first. The 33-year-old from Bihar, who belongs to a traditional Hindu family, was brought up with the idea that he could not marry outside of his caste or religion. “But ever since I shifted to Delhi to study law, my mindset changed. I got the opportunity to interact with people from various religious and cultural backgrounds and that I would say has made me more inclusive,” he expresses.
Amitabh had decided he would marry a woman of his choice, no matter the caste or religion. In 2017, he met Leona (name changed) on Tinder, and soon started dating. When he informed his family, his parents assumed that the affair would only last a brief while and he would soon find someone else. “My parents warned that if I went ahead with this marriage they would cut ties with me, but I did not go back on my decision.”
Leona’s parents, on the other hand, did not object to the relationship. The 35-year-old says: “My father had given me the freedom to choose my life partner. He was absolutely fine with me marrying a person of my choice, provided he was nice. But they wanted to make sure that Amitabh’s family knew about the relationship.” While her parents went to meet her partner’s family in Bihar, the latter was still against the marriage.
Within the next three-four months, the couple finally got married in court, without informing Amitabh’s parents. “Two months after the wedding, I informed my mother. She did not inform my father till my sister’s wedding last year in April. And it was only after her wedding that I informed my father, who wasn’t on talking terms with me for more than a year although they were curious to know if I had converted. Only now has he started talking to me but none of my family members have met my wife yet.”
For the couple from Delhi, who have been married for two years now, the cultural exchange has been quite smooth. “Religion was never a barrier between us. Even before marriage, we would celebrate all major Hindu festivals. We celebrate both Hindu and Christian festivals equally. Before the pandemic, we would go to the temple every Saturday followed by the church on Sunday. I never felt I was married to someone from a different religion,” Leona shares.
Amitabh, who went to the church for the first time during his wedding, adds, “It is quite natural that you may have to adjust in certain situations and I have done that quite easily. There is no conflict as such.”
‘We are doing as much as we can to ensure our daughter is brought up with both faith’
For Alisha and Abhiraj Purandare from Pune, there wasn’t really any resistance from either family. Alisha’s parents themselves had an interfaith marriage — her mother, who was Hindu, had converted to Islam to marry her father. “Growing up it was predominantly Islamic because we lived in a joint family. I realised only when I visited my mother’s relatives that she was from a different background. But my parents have always been liberal.”
The lovers met in a theatre group at Max Mueller Bhavan around 2009–Alisha was a student while Abhiraj was already a teacher. The couple married in 2011 under the Special Marriage Act. “One of my own uncles did not attend the wedding but otherwise there was no severance of relationships or any other issue,” Alisha recalls.
While religious differences have never been an impediment in their nine years of marriage, the 33-year-old tends to face religious bias from others regularly. “When we got married, there was a lot of curiosity among people. They came just to see how it would work out–whether there would be quarrels but it all went off smoothly. What I face very often is a subconscious bias. People come up to me and say, ‘You don’t look a Muslim, you speak Marathi so well,’ which just makes me wonder how Muslim women are supposed to appear. There have been times when people would rant in front of me against Muslims without realising I belong to the community.”
Alisha believes there is increasing religious polarisation today which has, in a way, impacted the way their six-year-old daughter is being brought up. “Our neighbourhood is becoming increasingly polarised and Muslim families are moving to other areas. The society we live in is predominantly Hindu. So naturally, our daughter is inclined towards traditions that she observes around her.”
“The diversity I grew up in is lacking today,” Alisha recalls. She adds how she really wanted to teach the Quran to her daughter but was unable to find an instructor who would come to a Hindu Brahmin household. “She is not learning as much about Islam as I would like to even as parents, we are doing as much as we can to ensure that she brought up with both faith. On one hand, she celebrates Eid, on the other, she is also learning shlokas from her grandparents.”
Not just Islamic traditions, Alisha performs Hindu rituals too. “I am very religious but that it has nothing to do Hindu or Muslim. I just pray a lot. Whatever Hindu traditions I have imbibed has been on my own, with assistance from my mother-in-law.”
She adds, “But we do not follow the Hindu tradition of not eating meat during certain festivals because that is not how I have grown up. Not that anyone told us to strictly follow the rule. The three of us live separately but probably if we were living with our family, it may have been a problem.”